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Trekking the Inca Trail

The sun had risen the better part of half an hour ago, coffee made; it spread its brilliance across the mountain ranges to the east as I sat in my small tent. Day two of a four-day trek, I still raged with energy, bounding to start off again. I leaned back against my sturdy pack, the week’s constant friend, ally, taking it from my shoulder would soon become a welcomed break, but not yet. Coffee on the road is savored as compared to Tim’s at home, even though it lacked consistency, strong one day, weak the next, it didn’t matter.

Four days in the mountains, the range doesn’t matter, the country, the continent, it’s also irrelevant. From the Andes to the Rockies, Appalachians, Himalayas, to little ole Mount Carleton or the Fundy Trail. It’s basically the same concept; walking. One step in front of the other, a set destination, duration and experience. I have been trekking in some form or another for my entire life. The term trekking only came into my vocabulary a couple years ago, I had just called it hiking, sort of lacked sex appeal back then though, Hiking

Finishing my coffee, I rolled my sleeping bag and mat and placed them in the bottom section of my pack. Other then some food and additional clothing, I only carried water, film, a camera and a small journal. Sometimes I had a pack of cards, Maritimer and all. What you carry is up to you, your trip and whom you are trekking with. Sun Screen, bug repellent, first aid kit, I guess I left that out, seeing how it is always stored in the inside pouch of my pack. Sunglasses and a hat are essential too, especially at high altitude.

The tent came down quickly; others were on the move as I had camped at a small base camp, scattered tents and walker’s lay everywhere. 6:00am, who would have thought there would be this much action anywhere in the world at 6:00am? Then again, it was completely quiet at 9:00pm last night. Completely sorted I walked slowly down to the brook we all had stopped to camp by, having filled my water bottle last night, ah the joys of iodine and boiled water – just a side note, water doesn’t boil properly at over 3000 metres so if you are high altitude trekking, bring iodine, you’ll thank me for it later. I leaned over the running water, splashing the sleep from my eyes and was soon off, climbing in height as the trail ascended for most of the day. Slowly, I would make it slowly.

Your mind wanders when its just you on the trail, thoughts of work, friends, family, I kept trudging along, one foot in front of the other. The stone path leads the way as most of them do. Countless trails in New Brunswick can be found wherever you live. Waterfalls, caves, cliffs, ocean views, they are everywhere around the province. All it takes is a short drive and your out in the wilderness, exploring, escaping; it’s up to you. The sun has risen as I continue forward, up the slow moving rise. A couple small thatched-roof huts can barely be seen in the distance, checking my time it still only 9:00am, they’ll do for a break, but lunch can wait. I move on.

One foot in front of the other, my legs are wearily plodding along as the hill grows in intensity. The altitude makes breathing a little more intense as oxygen isn’t all it’s cracked up to be at sea level. You’d really have to experience high altitude trekking to get the full effect, if you’ve done it your nodding in appreciation, if not, well lets just say you are out of breath really quickly. Puffing I cross over a small crest and decide to sit and rest, 11:00am time for a snickers bar and some water. Dehydration, the absolute abomination of trekking, must be avoided. I think I have passed quite a few others this day. The fall is always a popular time for hiking, the sun a little more tolerant then summer and as an added kick, there are very few insects above 2800m. I guess that makes up for the additional strain on the body.

I stopped for lunch with a couple Canadian girls about an hour before the top crest of today’s route. 4400m are coming up pretty quickly but I am starting to get a little tired. Hikers, generally speaking, act as a pretty small community, helping each other out, sharing conversations along the way. They were walking at the same pace as I was over the last hour so we traded stories of home, travel etc along the trail. Lunch is a couple tuna sandwiches made this morning; backpackers travel light so needless to say, gourmet meals are hard to come-by. The sun is out, shining brightly, warming, so I can’t really complain now can I.

The trail loops around a large peak, gradual climb rather then brave anything technical. Finally the rock acts as stepping-stones, alleviating some of the strain on my worn boots; Prospectors, five or six years old now, third pair of “guaranteed for life” soles. Have to admit though; they’ve replaced them free of charge both times, adding new insoles, laces and some polish to the worn leather; definitely one of my best purchases.

Stopping for water I gaze down over the valleys below, mist gathering. Stragglers plod along the winding trail as far as I could see; I was pacing myself to reach the next base camp by 3:00pm, around the time the skies opened yesterday afternoon. I was about half an hour from today’s summit and another hour down the mountain to camp, or so I was figuring. Downhill’s, although more strenuous on joints, always were quicker. Yesterday I had powered my way through each downhill, making incredible time. Today hopefully, would be similar.

Re-shouldering my pack I was back trekking upwards, the odd porter screaming past me at super human speed. The mountains of gear they carried did little to slow them. Sandal clad, they bounded from rock to rock; I was completely amazed. Less then fifteen minutes from the summit I stumbled upon a younger trekker, fourteen possibly and definitely feeling the altitude.

“How are you doing?” I asked. He looked miserable, years of Nintendo and Play Station taking its toll. I had spoken with his sisters before lunch, so knew they were a family traveling from Toronto. What a way to spend Christmas.

“Okay” he puffed.

“Want some water?” I asked, stopping to rest with him. The majority of his family was screaming encouragement from the looming crest. I was sure he didn’t care at this point.

“No, I am okay.” His bottle was half full, so at least he was drinking some. Altitude sickness had to have crept in.

“How about some chocolate. I was just going to open a Snickers. Want half?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Hopefully the chocolate bar we shared would give him a little bit of a rush. Couldn’t be more the two hundred metres to the top. I offered him some words of encouragement. Take your time; you have all day, no sense killing yourself. He complained about his friends getting to go to Florida and he was stuck hiking in the Andes. Obviously different priorities, but hey, years from now he’d look back at this as a milestone; or so his family hoped I suppose. I had to be impressed simply that he was here; 4400 metres in altitude, not an electronic appliance in sight. Take people from their comfort zones to see their character. I lived for that, although this was always my comfort zone.

I waited at the top of the crest for him to summit, his family screaming as if at a hockey game. He didn’t seem to care, personal satisfaction well hidden. The view from the top was incredible, the rainstorms well defined in the valley below. A couple pictures and some rest, the winds were picking up too much for me to spend the day there. I was off bounding down the rock stairway, carefree. Base camp was at 3800 I thought I had heard. 500 metres straight down, my pack lightened with each step.

The rains picked up around 2:30, a little earlier then I had expected, but then again, I am far from a meteorologist. Lines of tents and a couple small huts were in sight, ten minutes away perhaps, perhaps more. It mattered little, I’d need to wear my poncho or spend the rest of the day soaked to the bone. At $2US it was quite possibly my favorite possession at the moment. It wrapped completely over my pack and torso, shorts/bare legs would dry in an instant once I set up my tent. Contention in the fact that I was coming into camp soon, I trudged forward. The roar from the growing brook and waterfall dulled the rain.

Base Camp: Learning from experience, I dug a small trench around the base of my tent. Water now flowed freely around my tent instead of underneath. Waking up in a small pool of chilled water is not the best way to start the day. I spent the next hour taking care of food and ailments. Second skin and iodine are great additions to sore blisters, a fresh face clothe, even if rain water, applied to my face, washed away some of the weariness before I headed to the main building attempting to pick up a card game before bed. Cards travel light and they pass the time easily between 6:00PM and bedtime. I may have even won a few dollars, always the opportunist. The next day came quickly.

Day Three:

The trail loomed in front of me, another up hill battle for the better part of two hours awaited me as I re-shouldered my pack and started onwards. The incline was not welcomed, far from daunting, just not the best way to start out at 6:00AM. Ruins would line the trail today, resting places, spectacular views. A stone stairway guided the way, maybe an hour and a half to the pass, my mind wandered, as it tends to do when I walk for long periods.

The shrill effects clinging from yesterday’s walk still hindered as I stepped forward, one foot in front of the other, historic sites stopped and enjoyed. The real thrill was still to come, the destination and journey my real solace. I just relished putting in distance, 15K yesterday, 10 the day before and 10 more today, trekking forward, my legs regaining the pleasant burn remembered from yesterday’s ascent. I was out of base camp early and would hopefully put some distance between the others, and me; not that it was a race. The solitude of walking with one’s self was always searched for when I trekked. Occasional company enjoyed but not searched for. One step in front of the other, I continued to climb the ancient stairway up into the sky.

A huge waterfall could be seen back from where I had come. Mists and rain from yesterday afternoon’s assault had hidden it from view until now. Spectacular if only for the sheer drop of water from its ledge; it streamed down, providing the force pulsing through base camp’s ample brook. Glacial waters I supposed.

The trail fell across the backside of the mountain, hidden caverns and ruined religious sites darted in and out of the overgrown cloud forest as I continued onward. Sunshine peaked over the crest of a small mountain in the distance, small only in comparison to its massive neighbors; a couple pictures and I was off.

Incan Ruins clung to the side of the mountain; a drop from stonewalls fell hundreds of metres to the valley floor. Passages from three valleys converge at this one location, a day’s hike from the Ancient Inca City.

The beauty with carrying all your own equipment was becoming apparent as I stopped for lunch and more water. My pack lightened with each passing meal, food used as energy, the slightly lightened load was enough encouragement for me to continue onwards.

Day Four:

It’s drizzling slightly this morning, ah the joys of the rainy season. Words of wisdom, wet tents don’t roll up as nicely as dry tents do. The rain does little to dampen my spirits, another few hours at a good pace and I am finished the trail. Promises of warm showers, hot soup and warm bed lie ahead; I forage onwards. Again, the destination is only part of the journey; I am reminded, quite possibly due to the lack of visibility. I am still optimistic, bouncing slightly at the imminent conquest.

I have met back up with the two Canadian girls I shared lunch with a couple days past. Common walking speed is the constant bond on the trail as we share a mobile breakfast heading into the park entrance. 5:45AM doesn’t seem as early this morning, I suppose traveling makes the desire to take the most of every day a little more fierce then typical weekend adventures. The three of us trade comments of hope, as the clouds don’t appear to be lifting anytime soon.

An hour passes before the rains pick up slightly, time for the poncho again as we continue on wards, the rain relieving any small chance of dehydration, its colder this morning, chilled almost, but the weather does little to wash away my spirits. I keep reminding the others that it beats being at the office. One smiles while the other shrugs, “At least its dry at the office.” We continue onwards, the thrill of ancient ruins and Machu Picchu pulling us forward.

The Sun Gate is little more then a mist infested gathering of slightly disappointed trekkers, the perfect picture lost I suppose. Again I remind myself, it’s the journey not the finish line. The ominous appearance of the ruins encourages me onwards. The lack of fat cat American tourist (as we have been calling those that will bus up the morning of) is promising. The tour companies had the opportunity to put walking tours on hold until the sun appears. I just smile in amazement, the historical site is empty of trespassers, and I depart my short-lived travel companions and head down into the ancient Inca city. I couldn’t have asked for a better backdrop to shoot some photos.

The rising sun burns off just enough of the Mountains protecting mists, its of little wonder this site remained undiscovered for such a long time. The River below is completely hidden. Lush greenery only adds to the ancient gateways and building as I play in the open courtyards with my Canon Rebel. Photography, the only souvenir I really have to bring home. Different trips, different treks, same saving grace, a couple roles of film and an ever-increasing sense of adventure; the odd bus tourist mingled in with the soiled trekker, but did little to dampen our collective sense of accomplishments. I wandered alone, guidebook in hand and acknowledgement of other ancient civilizations. Compared and contrasted, taking in what I could, photographing what I couldn’t. The rains picked up slightly after an hour or two of wandering the plateau. Mayan and Egyptian experiences paled in comparison. The sheer lack of tourists floating around the dampened site added a sense of meditational solitude that would forever linger with this adventure.

The best thing about tourist locals has to be the ever-constant presence of American food; four days walking builds a strong desire for North American food. This historical site was no different, fast food booths, t-shirts, and postcards were everywhere. I grabbed a quick burger and caught the noon bus down to my hostel. Another adventure completed, another 50 Kilometers trekked. Hot water and a cold beer weren’t that far off, now whom was I going to share it with.

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